Jeddah Summit showed US is no longer sole strategic partner in Gulf - opinion

US President Joe Biden attended the summit held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia recently along with the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq.

 THE JEDDAH Security and Development Summit takes place, earlier this month.  (photo credit: Saudi Royal Court/Reuters)
THE JEDDAH Security and Development Summit takes place, earlier this month.
(photo credit: Saudi Royal Court/Reuters)

When analyzing extraordinary summits, such as the one recently held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, which was attended by US President Joe Biden, the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq, it is important not to look at things from only one point of view or develop a one-sided vision. Nor can it be analyzed through fantasy or wishful thinking.

However, it is necessary to look at reality in an unbiased and objective way so that useful conclusions can be drawn to understand what is going on in our region and to develop expectations and assessments based on facts and not on fantasies and perceptions.

In analyzing this important historic meeting, we have to look beyond what’s declared. Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia has profound significance. Even though no public statements were made. The event is revealing and its strategic implications are well known and need no explanation.

The summit also has an important dimension, both in terms of the choice of Jeddah as the venue and in terms of the symbolism of the presence of the Arabs and the Gulf states at this summit. Those looking for an American achievement on the energy issue during this visit will not find one. It is absurd to claim that Biden traveled to the Kingdom to make a promise to boost oil production.

The positions of the Saudi leadership on this issue are fixed and known in advance. It would be naïve to expect it to change due to pressure or deals, and there are many diplomatic means and channels that are pulsed in such situations, well in advance of Biden’s visit. So, we believe there are no surprises in this regard; Biden himself is not surprised by the Saudi position on this issue.

Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan said Riyadh confirmed that it was coordinating the stability of world oil markets exclusively within the framework of OPEC+. The White House is already aware of this position. It is also known that it is dealing with a different Saudi leadership.

There is fresh water in the channels of the strategic relationship between the two countries. Relationship management mechanisms in previous decades and years no longer exist. They have been largely influenced by strategic changes in Saudi foreign policy, as well as US mistakes that are no longer secret, but implicitly conceded by the White House in several statements on this Middle East trip.

“We will not walk away and leave a vacuum [in the Middle East] to be filled by China, Russia or Iran. We will seek to build on this moment with active, principled, American leadership.”

United States President Joe Biden

Thus, it can be noted that the rationale for this tour was evident in many of Biden’s statements. The point is to fill the void and correct mistakes. “We will not walk away and leave a vacuum [in the Middle East] to be filled by China, Russia or Iran,” Biden said. “We will seek to build on this moment with active, principled, American leadership.”

This sums up the trip. Several messages can be derived from Biden’s visit to the Kingdom and his participation in the Jeddah Summit.

The first is that a new phase in US-Arab relations in general and in US-Saudi relations in particular has dawned. This summit served to renew the commitment to the historic relationship that binds these countries to Washington, in preparation for redefining the foundations of these partnerships according to the new state of affairs.

The second is that Biden seeks to reshape the relationship between the US and Arab countries according to the new global geostrategic reality. These are all common interests the Arab region shares with the great powers, first and foremost, the US.

It provides a new and recognizable basis for restoring confidence in preparation for discussing contentious issues that have deepened the crisis of confidence and tensions that have strained relations between the two sides over the past decade.

The third is the issues raised at the summit reflect, albeit marginally, the importance of continued cooperation between the GCC countries and the US.

Issues raised

There are many and existing shared interests, despite any passing disagreement. The major interests shared with Washington confirm that the interests of the Gulf States extend to other countries and international powers. But the idea of a clash and abandonment of the historic strategic partnership with the US is absurd.

The fourth of these messages relates to Biden’s main strategic gain in Saudi Arabia. He aims to break the deadlock in relations between the two major partners, and reshape the alliance and the historic partnership to fit the Kingdom’s current strategic reality. As well, he aims to realize the interests of both parties within the framework of a new equation that turns the tide of oil vs security that has defined relations between the two countries for more than seven decades.

The fifth of these messages relates to the fundamentals of managing the new partnership relationship between Washington and its allies in the Gulf and the Arab world. These are fundamentals that are closely linked to mutual dialogue and underscore the importance of listening to and taking into account the views of partners in the Gulf and the Arab world.

It is no longer the US alone that sets the standards, but other partners actively play their role in the partnership. This played out in Biden’s talks with the young Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who refuted what Washington considers Saudi mistakes.

The US side ignores the discussion of its proven mistakes in Iraq and other countries, and raises the issue of values and discusses it in an unprecedented way, according to objective logic that has been ignored by US diplomacy for so long. Biden certainly listened to other voices from the Gulf and the Middle East in Jeddah. We believe he was not surprised by the events.

But the only concern is that the White House is confusing the priority of relations with the US with the priority of relations of the Gulf and Arab countries with Russia and China.

I am troubled by the comment of a senior White House official who said that Washington believes that a large number of Middle Eastern countries that have wanted to expand their relations with Russia and China in recent years had their push halted. “We have heard from every capital in this region that their first choice, their priority is the United States of America,” he said.

“And this is something we are very committed to following and finding areas where we can collaborate,” he said. “18 months ago, you heard a lot of really significant coverage [of] a real drift towards Russia and even China in many ways.” “Really, this one has been arrested and, in many cases, very specific cases - not all of which I can speak of - have been overturned.”

This perception is completely wrong. The Gulf and Arab countries will not give up their important strategic relations with Beijing and Moscow. The US will never again be the sole strategic partner of these countries.

It is not just about American mistakes. It’s mainly related to new realities in international relations, the balances of power and interests that impose themselves on all, including the US, which cannot abandon cooperation with Beijing, or even Moscow, despite the repercussions of the Ukraine crisis.

The writer is a UAE political analyst and former Federal National Council candidate.